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School Daze

Most of us remember our school days. Once you get to be my age some of those memories can become a little fuzzy but often times we remember the feelings we had even more than the actual events. High school for most of us was a social event. Many looked forward to seeing their friends at school. Kids passed notes to one another, gossiped about other kids, made fun of each other. Some kids wanted to be popular. Most just wanted to be accepted. They explored their sexuality. They wondered and worried if the boy or girl they “liked” liked them back. Or they were too worried, embarrassed, or unsure of their sexual feelings and kept them to themselves. It was a grand social experiment and most kids were happy to dive right in. Unless you were like me and hated the whole thing. I never wanted to be in school and spent my time devising ways not to be there.

When I think back about those times I often wonder what it would have been like to be part of the crowd. To be liked, and popular. To date and have a bunch of friends. I can’t imagine it because I never felt that way. I went on dates a couple times and when other kids talked about it, I hated it. I was a private kid, never letting anyone get too close. Not because I was worried about it, but because I didn’t want to let anyone into my private world. It was mine. I had great parents and a normal upbringing. I wasn’t socially awkward. I just valued my privacy and in high school, you had no privacy. Everyone knew your business and talked about it. So I kept close. I didn’t date or hang out with school friends after school. I did my own thing and dreamed of a time when I would be free of school. That’s just the way I was.

So when I heard that some of my high school classmates were planning our 45th class reunion, the idea piqued my interest. I am aware of course that over the years, people change. We are not who we were in high school. And yet the high school experience is so unique, so pervasive, it’s like a bubble in your memory. It’s like remembering a time when you were someone else. And now, you’re you. I argued with myself. I thought, I’m not that person anymore and then I remembered, they aren’t the people they were either. We’re all different know. And I started wondering what became of the people I went to high school with. I had joined a “Class of ’74” Facebook page and had read a few things posted there so I knew what some of my former classmates were up to. When I read a post that said there was going to be a meeting of the reunion committee and it was open to everyone, I was curious, so I went. And I volunteered to be on the committee.

At the time I joined, it had been about a year and a half since my wife died and I was just starting to come out of my shell. So getting to know some of my former classmates and participating in real life seemed like a good idea. And it was. The whole thing was a fun experience. It was very comfortable getting to know my classmates on the committee again. We had a lot of things to do to prepare for the reunion, and the reunion itself was fun. It was just a whole roomful of people who used to know each other, getting in touch again.

Life is a funny, strange and weird thing. In the smallish town where I grew up I’d known many of my high school classmates most of my life. We attended grade school together. And yet after graduation we all took off in many different directions to make new lives of our own. Coming back together for a reunion was an enjoyable time. Those that I talked to reminisced about school days or talked about their grand kids. We remembered cars we used to have and things we used to do. No tension, no gossip, no notes passed under the table. We never imagined being in our sixties when we were in school and now, we’re talking about planning our 50th reunion. Most of us have no idea what we’re in for when we’re young and life is kind of like bumbling around in the dark with a candle that keeps going out. You light it and find your way for awhile and then the damn thing goes out again and you’re lost. Then you get it lit again and keep going. And sometimes, you have reunions.


Enlightenment: A Call To Action

I read an interesting Facebook post from screenwriter and author, David Gerrold today. He wrote about the Buddha and enlightenment. The article starts like this (quote): “The story of Buddha, the short version, is that he was a prince or a noble of some sort. When he saw the great poverty of the people, he abandoned his riches and became a stoic. After a while, he realized that was a mistake as well and then he sat under a Bodhi tree for a while and became enlightened.”

A very short version indeed. The Buddha discovered that life is full of suffering. With enlightenment came the ability to deal with the suffering in your mind and finally the ability to eliminate suffering from your life through changing the way you think about it. This, according to Buddhism, is enlightenment. He spent the rest of his life teaching these things to others. That’s all fine, writes Gerrold but:

“If he truly was a prince or a noble. If he truly was rich, then he was in a position to actually help the people living in great poverty. There were things he could have created — hospitals, schools, shelters for the homeless. He could have been more than some eccentric old guy sitting under a tree saying stuff that’s supposed to make people feel good about what’s going on inside their heads.”

It’s an interesting thought. In other words, it’s good to know about the troubles of individuals, and of the world, but knowing is not enough. Once you know, and if you are in a position to, you should be doing something about it. As an example, he say’s this: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

The author also left this comment: “I will add a note to that. I wash the dishes every morning. It’s a relaxing ritual while the coffee perks. This is how enlightenment turns a chore into a service — I am being in service to my son and daughter-in-law. I am making a difference by providing a cleaner space for all of us. I am still chopping wood and carrying water, but now I understand why I am chopping wood and carrying water. I do it as a service.”

These are some good things to think about. We know about the troubles of the world. We see it and read about it in the news everyday. But knowing is not enough. I’ve read books about Buddhism, about monks spending their lives in meditation. But I often wondered, what good does this do beyond the good of the monk doing the meditation. Enlightenment is awareness, Gerrold writes: “But awareness itself is useless — unless you roll up your f**king sleeves and do something. If you are not going to work and making a difference, your enlightenment is merely narcissism in drag.”

Do something. Anything. Even something as simple as writing about what’s happening to people, to bring awareness. And then people turn that awareness into action. Even, Gerrold says, doing the dishes in order to create a cleaner space. Being in service to others, even if it is something as simple as smiling and greeting the cashier at your grocery store. Even that is a service. It can help brighten someones day, and who knows what they might do with that. They might go home after work and be nicer to their neighbors. And do it without expecting anything in return. If we do things because they should be done, and not for some kind of reward, (like a “thank you”) we’re providing a service to others, and that in turn is enlightenment. Knowing you’re doing things that should and need to be done to make a better world without expecting or desiring a reward.

So let’s go out and do stuff. There is a lot of injustice in our country and right here in our towns. Let’s make things better. Be encouraging, smile, or open a door for someone. Or go out and build houses for Habitat for Humanity. A lot of us are busy people. Many don’t have time to build houses. But we have time to smile. We have time to help someone load their groceries into their car. This is enlightenment.


We lead busy, hectic lives. People work hard at their jobs, some raise families, some volunteer. We’re busy and the stress of all this is not easy to deal with. When I have mentioned to people that they try meditation I have been told that they don’t have time, or they’ve tried it but it doesn’t work for them. I get that. Formal, sit on a cushion meditation takes time, effort and planning. I’ve done some of that myself and it works well for me but for the most part I do what’s called, mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness has become very popular in the U.S. these days and you can find lots of books about it and seminars, and teachers. Many people are confused about what mindfulness really is and what it can do for them. It takes time to figure it out and time and effort to practice.

But it doesn’t have to be that hard. This is my definition of mindfulness. Some may agree, some may not. Mindfulness is simply paying attention. Paying attention to whatever it is you are doing at the moment. Becoming fully absorbed in the task at hand, whatever it is and not letting your mind wander. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is, but not at first. It takes practice. Unfortunately, we have a bad habit of letting our minds wander. Especially when we’re doing mundane tasks like washing dishes, or cleaning, or driving (especially bad). Mindfulness means paying attention to what we are doing and not thinking about other things. It helps clarify the mind, prevents worry, and helps you stay awake and aware. It also helps you sleep better at night. Meditation can also be done by thinking about a specific thing while you are doing something else.

As you may know, I’m a tea drinker. I make a cup of tea almost every morning. This takes a little time and if you steep your tea, you really can’t do anything else while you’re steeping. It’s a good time to practice meditation. Here’s how I do it: First I practice mindfulness meditation while I’m gathering the things I need to make my tea. I use an electric kettle which boils water in about 2 minutes. First I fill the kettle with water and start it. While the water heats I gather a cup, the tea, my tea strainer, and the honey I use to sweeten it. I put 2 teaspoons of tea in the strainer (I use a 12 ounce cup), and while I’m doing all this I’m concentrating on what I’m doing. Keeping my mind on the tasks and when my mind starts to wander, which it will, I recognize this and simply bring my mind back to the task. The more you practice, the less your mind will wander. When the water boils I shut off the heat and wait one minute before pouring the water in the cup. You don’t want to steep your tea at boiling temperature because it can give it a bitter strong flavor. After one minute I put the strainer in and start steeping.

While I’m steeping I’m thinking about something specific. I start by thinking about tea fields and all the hundreds or even thousands of workers in foreign countries that pluck tea for a living. Next I imagine the tea factories where the leaves and processed. I think about tea leaves being tossed in giant heated woks, and other processes it takes to make good tea. Then I think about the buyers and sellers of tea and next about the people who ship tea and the dock workers and and workers on ships and planes that carry the tea to foreign ports all over the world. And then I’m on to the stores that sell tea and the people who’s job it is to get the tea into my hands. And the workers who make tea cups and strainers and then the bees and flowers and hives and beekeepers it takes to make honey. And then I’m done steeping and I drink my tea. And the whole time I’m doing this I’m not worrying about anything, I’m not thinking about my day and what I’m going to do. I’m only feeling gratitude for the thousands of people involved in making sure I can enjoy a nice cup of tea.

In doing this it will open your mind to a wider world. To feel gratitude for all of the people involved in various aspects of your life can help make you a more compassionate person. While you are concentrating you are not worrying. You can’t worry if you’re not thinking about what worries you. You feel more clarity as you start your day. And then throughout your day, you can use the mindfulness meditation to keep your mind on the tasks you need to do. If you have trouble sleeping at night you can concentrate on your breath. Many people’s mind wander like crazy when they lay down for sleep. If you meditate on your breath, concentrating on breathing in, feeling the air fill your lungs and feeling the air release through you nostrils you can even say to yourself, “I breathe in, I breathe out.” The breath is something to think about that’s benign and doesn’t cause any worry. And if you’re thinking about your breath, you’re not thinking about the thousand things that keep you awake at night.

But it takes practice. One of the things I have noticed is that the mind starts to wander when your eyes go unfocused. Say you’re hand washing your dishes. When you start thinking about something other than washing your dishes, you’ll find that your eyes are not focused on what you’re doing. So practice that as well. Keep your eyes actively looking at what you’re doing. You won’t be good at it right away and that shouldn’t discourage you. There are very few things in life that we are. Just like any other skill however, you need to practice it. When you first start, don’t chastise yourself when you fail. If you find your mind wandering from the task, simply recognize that it is, and bring yourself back. Start concentrating again. It will happen again, and then just bring your mind back to the task you’re doing. You will find that as you do this it will get easier and eventually you’ll do it without thinking about it. You’ll also notice that you worry less. You can’t worry if you’re not thinking about what worries you. Give it a try!

We Need Change

A few weeks ago, I had a prostate biopsy. You can click on the blue link to see what’s involved in that. My father and my brother both had prostate cancer, so it’s something I have to be concerned with. So far so good, no cancer. Two days ago, I got a “Claims Summary” from my insurance company. I pay a lot of money every month to have this insurance. The total charges for the procedure were $7,163.40. It took twenty minutes to do this procedure and I had to drive 80 miles round trip to have it done. Twenty minutes with my Doctor costs $7,163.40.

On the Claims Summary there is an interesting column called, “Discounted Balance.” The amount in that column is $3,248.48. Beside this amount it says: “(my insurance company) negotiates discounts with doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.” The interesting thing about this is that even though my medical provider charged me $7,163.40, they knocked off $3,248.48 from the bill. Almost half. And the even more interesting thing about this is that my medical provider is still making money off this procedure. If they wern’t making money, they wouldn’t be doing it. They charged me almost twice as much as they needed to. My insurance paid. $1,747.03 leaving me with a bill for $1,501.45. If I didn’t have insurance I’d have to pay the entire $7,163.40 bill.

Have you ever gone to a “Half price” sale. The store will have big signs all over stating, 50% discount on everything! This is a great time to buy things. But the underlying meaning here is that for the rest of the year they have been charging you twice as much as they needed to. They are still making money off of the sale. They wouldn’t be giving you a 50% discount if it meant the were losing money on it. My medical provider wouldn’t knock off half my bill if they would lose money doing it. This is what capitalism does for you. Sure, it gives you the freedom to start a business and maybe do really well with it, providing the opportunities are there for you. But on the other hand it gives you the opportunity to be ripped off by other people starting businesses who want to charge outrageous prices for their services. Now this may be a controversial thing to say but here goes: Capitalism only works for the few, not for the many. And it is for this very reason that it is not sustainable. Eventually, given enough time, the system will crash.

The problem is simple enough. The lure of money is too hard to resist. If a rich person showed up at your door and handed you a million dollars for free, who would turn that down? “No thanks, my Social Security check each month is enough for me. Keep your million.” That wouldn’t happen. We may not like to admit it, but we all want more. How long can the country, or the world sustain unchecked capitalism? How long before the whole thing crashes? Do I have a solution? Not really. I don’t know that much about other systems to speak on them. But I do know this, any time you put some one in charge, in a position of authority, they need to be watched, closely. Remember the lure of money? It is only exceeded by the lure of power.

A favorite author, Douglas Addams once said this: “The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” Those who seek power are the least suited to handle it. It’s one of the reasons why I get charged twice as much on my medical bill than they need to charge.

So what are we to do? I think we all need to admit that the system we currently have in place doesn’t, for the most part, work for most of us. We need to consider this when we decide who we’re going to vote for and what we’re going to vote for. We need something new. Government needs to be re-done from the top down. It’s time for change. Most people are not comfortable with change, however. We need to get over that. For the good of us all, and the future of our country, we need change.

Time On My Hands

As a person who’s retired, I have time on my hands. And yet, I can stay pretty busy if I want to. There are plenty of things to do, like clean out my garage, mow the grass, fix broken things around the house, and well, you get the idea. When I was working, having a few minutes to sit and relax was a luxury I seldom had. Now, I can spend a whole day doing nothing and it doesn’t matter. Whatever needs to be done can wait until tomorrow. Except the laundry. If you want to wear clothes, you have to do laundry.

The point is that when I was working I had a lot of things to do and not much time to do them. I felt I needed to be doing something all the time in order to get all the jobs done. When I did take a break I felt guilty about it even though I needed it. This was my M.O. for years. Now that I’m retired, I still feel this way. I haven’t yet gotten used to not having to be busy all the time. I need to convince myself that it really is okay to not have anything to do. I mean after all, isn’t this what I was looking forward to? The day when I didn’t have to get up and go to work? What was the point of working at all if not to be able to enjoy my life away from work? You have to do some kind of work in today’s world in order to survive but that shouldn’t be what life is all about. You should be able to have leisure time with your family or friends. Otherwise, what is the point?

I have bookshelves full of books. I go to used bookstores, and book sales and pick up books I think will be interesting or informative. Then I grab one and sit to read and remember I still need to clean out that back gutter on the house. The grass is looking long again, I better go cut it. I need to meet up with my friend for lunch. For some reason my brain is telling me that reading is wasting time and I have all these other things to do and I better get to them because you know Winter isn’t that far away and you can read in the Winter time so get off your butt and get these things done because, because, because…….

Ever have an argument with yourself? That’s what I’m doing, and I’m not winning. How is that possible? Anyway, this is what I’m working on. Convincing myself that it’s alright to not do anything. I don’t have to worry about it getting out of hand though and becoming really lazy. I’ve always been the kind of person who stays busy but some down time to catch up on my reading is good. I need to keep my mind sharp. Like I said, working serves no other purpose than for you to be able to enjoy your life away from work. I enjoyed my job but I had no trouble walking away from working. No trouble at all. Now I have time to do what I want, right? Except the grass is looking long again….

New Page

If you look at the black bar that is right below the photo above, and right above this post, you’ll see some headings there. About, haiku, etc. Today you’ll find a new one titled, “The Tea Blog”. I’ve decided to write about tea. I’ve spent a long time writing about much more serious subjects and I’ll continue to do so, but I’ve found that after awhile I need a break from seriousness. The state of our union is such that I can only take so much. Politics and writing about the political situation in the U.S. really gets to me after awhile. So I need something else to concentrate on.

I like to drink tea but I’ve never learned much about it. So the new page will help with that. I’ll discover all kinds of things about tea and relay them to you, the reader. If it gets popular I may turn it into it’s own blog. So I’ll post a notice when I’ve posted a new article on the Tea Blog. Enjoy!

What Kind Of World Do You Want?

I just spent a half hour looking at Facebook. I read several articles about current events. I saw pictures of our president and his wife with victims from one of the latest mass shootings. He and her were smiling and he was giving the thumbs up sign. This man has no more self awareness than a rock. He basically used these hurting people as a photo op staring himself. I read that many of them refused a visit from him. Good for them, I thought. I’m glad they refused. I wondered what I would have done in the same situation. If it had been me I would like to have said, “Sure, I’ll see the president”, and then told him to his face that the only reason myself and the other survivors are here is because he spreads fear and racism. He spreads hate and division. Then I would tell him to get the f**k out of my room.

I hate feeling angry. Anger is destructive. It harms your mind and body. Ever since trump became president I’ve felt more of it than ever in my life. Anger at him, at the NRA, at congress. Anger at the people who like and support trump and his racist, bigoted, hate filled views and actions. I feel anger right now while I’m writing this. I’m angry.

When trump announced his candidacy I started telling anyone and everyone what a bad president he would make. I reminded them of his failed businesses and bankruptcies when they said a business man would make a good president. I told them about all the racist and misogynistic things he said. I told them about his narcissistic behaviors. I reminded them that he had no political experience and they said we need someone outside the political sphere. I went on and on. But it didn’t matter because most Americans live in fear. They don’t even know what it is they’re afraid of, and yet they live in fear. And he played on their fears. He made them feel as if their fears were justified. People always want to feel justified. They want to feel that what they’re feeling and thinking has merit. And he made them feel justified. All his presidency has done for them is to make them even more afraid and they don’t see it.

So here we are, in the third year of trump’s presidency. Hate and fear have taken center stage. A fascist regime is coming closer to reality every day and still, people don’t see it. I see people making comments on social media like this: “This is not who we are as a country,” or, “What have we become?” Unfortunately, this is naive thinking. Look at history and you’ll find we have always been a racist nation. We have always been fearful. We feared Native Americans. We feared witches. We feared black people. The North feared the South and the South feared the North. We’ve feared the rich and we’ve feared the poor. Fear drives us. And when you fear something long enough you begin to hate it. You hate it for making you fearful. And hate makes you do things like slaughtering other humans with assault weapons. And then we bury our dead and wonder how we got like this. No one knows what to do. No one remembers that this country has a constitution that states exactly what we can do. No one thinks they have any power to change the situation. It’s easier to crawl back in your hole and fear everything outside than it is to stand up and demand change.

The only reason our government is the way it is, is because we have let it become this way. It’s our fault. You won’t hear too many people say that. They want to blame the NRA, or trump or whoever but ultimately, it’s us. We the people have allowed our politicians through their actions or inaction’s to make our country what it is. Rather than take responsibility with our vote we just keep voting the same corrupt people back into office. Rather than demanding that our politicians do what we want of them we say we don’t have time for that. We’re too busy. We have complicated lives. And so, we get what we’ve asked for, even though we didn’t realize we were asking for it. And now we don’t know what to do.


Ah yes, coffee. Yesterday I wrote about tea, the worlds favorite beverage and mine, so why am I writing about coffee today when I don’t even like it? Because coffee is the favorite beverage of the United States. According to Market Watch website in 2016 the per capita consumption of coffee in the U.S. was 88.8 gallons, far beyond other beverages like soda or tea. That’s a lot of coffee. It indicates just how much Americans love it. And of course because we love our coffee so much there are a zillion different ways to make and enjoy it. On the Home Grounds website there is an impressive list of different brewing methods, including, Espresso, Areo press, French press, Percolator, Drip, Pods, Moka Pot, Vacuum Pot, Chemex and Hario V60, etc. (Hario V60?) And of course there are dozens of ways to drink coffee such as Cappuccino, Latte, Caffe Macchiato, and more. Stop in to any Starbucks or Caribou Coffee shop and you’ll find a dizzying array of choices. Such is our obsession with coffee.

According to what I’ve read, no one now knows when coffee, the drink, was discovered. But it probably began in Ethiopia and spread from there. By the 15th century coffee was grown and traded in what is now the country of Yemen. From there, it spread all over the world. One of the reasons why people love coffee so much is because of the high caffeine content. A cup of Joe first thing in the morning and you’re ready to go. And if you really want to jack yourself up in the morning, try cold press coffee. We love our coffee with caramel and whipped cream and lots of other stuff. Ever try Arabic coffee? Arabic coffee is unfiltered and boiled. It’s really bitter. Whatever your tastes are, there’s a coffee out there for you.

One thing I forgot to mention in my article about tea, is the idea of Terroir, (tehr·waar). Whether you’re growing wine grapes, coffee or tea, the soil, air quality, climate and water quality are all involved in the quality of the final product. That’s Terroir. And it means that coffee grown under various conditions can have widely different taste. Add to that the type of roasting that’s done to the beans and it means your choices seem endless. And why not? We love choices. (Just go to your local store and try to buy toothpaste sometime.)

And of course, the coffee industry is huge. Many Americans spend thousands of dollars each year on coffee. A couple websites I visited said Millennial’s spend more on coffee than they do on retirement plans. It really does seem to be an obsession. As with any, “industry” there are drawbacks. The coffee industry creates an enormous amount of waste each year. All of the paper cups, plastic cups, plastic lids, stir sticks, and straws, and filters and plastic pods get thrown away. And it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. More coffee shops are opening all the time.

And so America loves coffee. I however, have never acquired a taste for it. And I certainly don’t want any of those fru fru drinks with whipped cream and chocolate chips and all the other stuff they put into them. Just give me a nice cup of black tea with some honey in it and I’ll be fine.

A Great Cup Of Tea

Having been a tea drinker for several years, I have written about it before. Many of you might read that sentence, yawn and click past. I hope not, because I find tea to be fascinating. I’m one of those people who when I like something I have to know all about it. I want to know where it came from, who made it, and how it was made until I know all there is to know about it. Then and only then will I be satisfied. And knowing about something seems to help me to enjoy it more. So we are leaving all the usual subjects behind this time and delving into something a lot of people know little about. You can only immerse yourself in the troubles of the world so long before you start talking to yourself and bumping into walls.

Did you know that tea is the most popular beverage in the world after water? It’s true, it is. The Tea Association of the U.S.A. lists a number of facts concerning tea. The tea bush’s (or tree) scientific name is Camellia sinensis and it has three varieties, sinensis, assamica, and cambodi. All the tea in the world derives from that one plant. There are others that are called tea, such as Rooibos, which is grown in Africa, but it’s not really tea. Also, you may have heard of Tea Tree Oil. It is an essential oil used for a variety of uses but it comes from the Melaleuca alternifolia plant and not from Camellia sinensis. Now you may be thinking that there are different types of tea and how can they all come from the same plant? There are in fact, six types of tea: black, green, white, yellow, oolong, and Pu-erh. All of these varieties come from the processing of the leaves of Camellia sinensis.

Legend has it that the tea drink was discovered around 5000 years ago in China. It wasn’t until the Tang dynasty (618-907) however that tea drinking became popular. At that time it grew only in China but today tea bush is grown in over forty counties world wide. Many tea growers today use sustainability practices to create healthier plants and a healthier environment. Many tea companies are Rain Forest Alliance certified and Fair Trade listed so you can feel good about your tea drinking.

Most of the world’s tea is hand picked and processed and thus, very labor intensive. Some mechanical pickers are used but for the most part, tea is hand picked. The reason for this is that different types of tea are made by different configurations of leaf and bud. Which means that some teas are made by picking two leaves and a bud, some by one leaf and a bud, some by buds only, etc. Hand picking is the only reliable way to get this right. The processing of the tea leaves then produces the different types such as green tea or black, oolong, etc. And then of course there is the drinking of the tea, which is the best part. You may be interested to know that tea in tea bags, such as Lipton and other brands, is the poorest quality tea on the market. The tea in tea bags is crushed and usually derived from the processing of whole leaf teas. The best way to enjoy tea is by using a strainer and whole leaf tea. The flavors are so much better.

But even with all the processing techniques used to make quality tea, the best cup of tea is up to you. The temperature of the water and the steeping time combined with the right amount of tea will produce the best cup. And tea has less caffeine than coffee so if you’re looking for a reduction in socially acceptable drug addiction, tea is the way to go! I drink black tea, in a twelve ounce cup using a teaspoon and 1/4 of whole leaf tea. After the water comes to a boil, remove the tea pot from the heat and wait till the bubbling stops. Pour the water into the cup and wait one minute. Then put the tea strainer with the tea in and steep for four minutes constantly moving the strainer. During that time you can do a short meditation on being thankful for all of the hundreds of people who’s work has brought you this wonderful cup of tea. After four minutes remove the strainer and drink. I use a table spoon of honey for a sweetener. And there you have it, a great cup of tea!

Doing The Happiness Rag

It is obvious if you pay attention to the world at large, that great numbers of people are unhappy. Maybe you are unhappy. All the negative things we see happening all around us prove this out. According to one website, people change jobs an average of 12 times over the course of their working career. Another website shows the 2018 divorce rate in the U.S. to be at 50%. Out of 195 countries in the world the U.S. ranks 18th on the World happiness scale so you would think that overall, we’re a pretty happy bunch. But are we? Every time I look at any news media I see unhappiness. Shootings, robberies, war, a 50% divorce rate, and crimes of all kinds. Our prisons hold more prisoners than any other country. Are we happy?

I know I’ve written about this before but it bares repeating. Happiness has little to do with outside circumstances and almost everything to do with how we react to those circumstances. I’ve had some pretty crappy jobs over the years. One job had me shoveling carbon that was used as a filter material for chemical laden water. It was a dirty, toxic, hot, all around miserable job. I had to dress in a hazmat type suit which was horribly hot, crawl inside a metal tank through a tube which I could barely fit and shovel this filtering material out and into barrels for processing. It was not what I thought of when a grade school teacher asked my class what we wanted to be when we grew up. Not even close. One day in the middle of shoveling I contemplated the work. It was good hard labor. It kept me in the best physical shape of my life. I was lean and strong. The pay was good. And I needed that job to pay the bills and hopefully work toward a day when I didn’t have to do it any more. There were actually a lot of positive aspects for doing something Mike Rowe calls, a dirty job. While my co-workers bitched and complained about it all day long, I kept my mouth shut. While a cleaner, easier job that payed as well would be desirable, there were a lot of reasons to appreciate what I was doing. (It was at this point when I meant to click the preview button to check my writing here and I actually clicked the publish button instead. I reacted very negatively, with much swearing, and fist pounding. I was unhappy.)

An example: My wife Ann had depression and anxiety. There were many times she felt the crushing weight of these illnesses and yet she was a happy person. Because she chose to be happy. Now I’m not an expert or even know much about mental illness. So I’m sure that I can’t speak to those issues. But I did know my wife, rather well at that. We talked about these things. She wanted me to be as informed about her depression and anxiety as I could be. And I wanted that as well. Not only were we married but we were best friends. I was the one she turned to in her darkest hours. In spite of all the things that could have gotten in the way of her happiness she decided to be happy. To enjoy her life to the fullest extent possible. Mental illness aside, she was a lot happier than many people I knew. And it was due mostly to her attitude.

There is a story that goes like this: When John Lennon was a child, one of his teachers asked his class what they wanted to be when they grew up. He answered that he wanted to be happy. His teacher suggested that he didn’t understand the question and he replied that she didn’t understand life. Whether or not this is true, I can’t say. But it does say something about life. Whatever you “do” in life, happiness is the foundation of all of it. Maybe you clean toilets for a living, and maybe you’re the CEO of a successful company. But if you’re not happy, what difference does it make what you do? Success cannot be measured by how much prestige, or wealth you gain. It can only be measured in what it brings to you in personal satisfaction. Happiness. How you see the world around you, whether or not you look for the positive aspects, can mean all the difference between misery and happiness.

I know I sound like a self help guru here but it really is up to us to make ourselves happy. Outside circumstances have an affect on us, this is true. How we react to those circumstances makes all the difference.

What Can We Do?

Three mass shootings in two weeks. Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton. All by angry white men with assault weapons. The media reports on it, the country grieves, flags are at half staff. We go about our lives wondering what the hell is happening, wondering what can be done, and no one does a goddamn thing. Words get tossed around: mental health, anger, fear, white supremacy, terrorism. Solutions are suggested, protests are staged, blame all around. And no one does a goddamn thing. We will go back to our lives, our jobs, saddened by our current state of affairs. And nothing will change.

The question of the hour: What can we do? I’ve heard plenty of ideas but almost no one is suggesting that we vote legislators out of congress who allow these shootings to continue. The ones who take money from the NRA as bribes for not voting for stricter gun laws. Our president uses fear and hate to divide us and surely this is part of the problem. Looking at the killers social media more than suggests that it is. Racism, misogyny, and other forms of bigotry contribute as well. Toxic masculinity from hundreds of years of raising boys to believe they should hide and fear their emotions. Hundreds of years of not talking about mental illness, of treating it as a taboo subject. You want to know what’s wrong? These things. These things right here.

“Don’t cry Bobby. Crying is for girls. Are you are girl? Well then, stop crying. Boys don’t cry.” Toxic masculinity. Countless millions of boys have been raised this way. To be tough, to be strong. To be stoic. Don’t let anyone know you feel terrible inside and whatever you do, don’t cry. Like adding pressure to an airtight bottle. Eventually it’s going to blow.

Fear. What are you afraid of? Well, if you’re American, you’re afraid of almost everything. Brown people, coming to take your jobs. Muslims, coming to take your God. LGBTQ people turning your children gay. Socialists coming to take your freedom. And when these fears are fed a steady diet of Trump and Fox News well, any thinking person can see what happens. And when our Congress refuses to act, refuses to do their jobs, it adds fuel to the fire. Like adding pressure to an airtight bottle. And when we refuse to demand that Congress does its job, that our president does his job, we are complicit. We are at fault.

There’s no point making a list, a “What can be done list.” There’s no point. We know what to do. We know what needs to be fixed. We were once a Democracy. Our country has become what we have allowed it to become. When you turn on the news and see another mass shooting, that’s your fault, and my fault. We have allowed this to happen. Through direct action or inaction, we have allowed our country to become what it is. No one I know of is suggesting this. No news agency, no individual writers that I have read are saying this is our own fault. Through our own action or inaction, it is. And we know how to fix it.

“But Why?”

The act of discovery is an act of destruction. Think about that sentence for a moment. Every time we discover something, we end up destroying something in the process. The discovery of fossil fuels is destroying our environment. The discovery of a new idea about something destroys the old idea. Human’s insatiable need to know has brought us flush toilets, garage door openers, and this computer I’m typing on. It has also brought us the atomic bomb. The “discovery” of the American continent brought the destruction of millions of lives. The insatiable need to know. It has brought us many wonderful things, and some not so wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, I like my flush toilet. But I can’t help but ask what drives us to continue to ask why? Asking why drives us to discover the answer, and thus to the destruction of discovery in the process. Why do we ask why?

I watch my dog a lot. She has curiosity just like most humans. She hears a noise and perks up her ears. As she walks her nose is sometimes to the ground to discover new smells. But when I ask her about the origin of her species, she doesn’t care. So why are humans so driven to know? I did an internet search with “Why ask why?” It yielded up all kinds of things about the human condition and such but nothing very satisfactory on why humans need to know. Ironically in my search to know why we ask why all the time, I too am asking why.

Why couldn’t we have just been satisfied that the Sun is in the sky providing warmth every day? Why did we have to know how it does it? As a species, our need to know is so strong it’s like a drug. We are absolutely driven to know new things, to discover how everything works and how the things that make everything work, work. Why couldn’t we have been satisfied with knowing how to provide food, clothing and shelter for ourselves?

I wonder about the satisfaction derived from finding an answer. We feel better about doing things like going to work, saving money, etc. if we know the reason why, if there is a purpose to what we’re doing. In this light, the reason for a flush toilet becomes obvious. But what about other discoveries? Like climbing a mountain. On May 29th, 1953 Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed to the top of Mount Everest. What was the purpose in doing that? Did they expect to find something there? This may seen strange but I’ve never understood the idea of doing something just to do it. Like running a marathon. Nope. I’m perfectly happy never knowing whether or not I could do that. But some people aren’t happy with that. They are driven to find out. To push themselves to their limits. Why? I guess if people didn’t want to push themselves to their limits we wouldn’t have the Olympics. And I like the Olympics. So maybe I should stop wondering why and just not worry about it. But….why?

Do You Believe In God?

Here is a question that has plagued humans since the beginning. Is there a God? And if there is, how do we know? How do we know that God is real? Philosophers have questioned whether we can actually know anything at all. What is the difference between human belief, and human knowledge? We can believe anything we want, but can we really know that what we believe is real? People have been thinking these thoughts and more, since well, forever. And we are seemingly no closer to an answer now than we were at the beginning. I’m going to take a closer look at the God question and what I believe about it.

First of all, human understanding comes very slowly. Whether you believe that humans are around 6000 years old or 200,000 years old, it is a fact that we are very slow at discovering anything. Around 450 BCE, a Greek philosopher named Democritus speculated about cutting a piece of matter, an apple for instance, into smaller and smaller pieces. He felt that a point could be reached where you wouldn’t be able to cut any smaller. He named these smallest pieces “Atomos,” where the word atom comes from. And it wasn’t until 1983 that we developed a microscope powerful enough to be able to see them. The discovery of the visible light spectrum came in the 17th Century and Marconi first used radio waves for transmission in the 1890’s. So humans have been around for thousands of years and yet we’ve discovered very little about ourselves or the universe. This is important in relation to our belief in a God. In the grand scheme of things, we know next to nothing.

It has been estimated that people have believed in over 3000 Gods during our history, most of whom have been proven to not be real. Greek Gods, Norse Gods, Egyptian Gods, etc. If you study all these beliefs you’ll find that other than creating “miracles,” they have all been attributed human characteristics. Love, goodness, anger, jealousy. This is because human characteristics are all we know. And miracles are something we can conceive of. But is this really what a God is like? Anger, jealousy, envy and the like are most often thought of as negative human traits. Would a God, whom is presumably so far removed from being human really have these attributes? That of course is very debatable.

My view on the whole question is this: If there is a God who has the ability to create life, to create atoms, turn those atoms into molecules, and turn those molecules into living, breathing flesh then that God would be so far removed from anything we know as humans that we wouldn’t be able to conceive of it. The human mind at this point and thus all other points in the past would not be able to understand an entity such as God. We could not begin to discuss or conceive of God. Does that mean that I believe no such God exists? Certainly not. What it does mean is that we have a long way to go before we ever figure out whether God is real. We just don’t know. It’s comparable to discovering the electromagnetic spectrum. We knew we could see and hear but we had no idea how we could see and hear. It has taken humans thousands of years just to discover these things, and we are still a long way off from knowing all there is to know about the human body, about nature or the universe. There is so much to “know” that we will never reach the end of knowledge.

Religion has many things to say about God. All of which are only things we can imagine. And yet we forget that people who lived in the BCE time frame couldn’t even conceive of the electromagnetic spectrum and yet today we know it is real. How can we believe that we know about God considering that a God would be so far removed from anything we can even imagine?

Should we give up then, stop wondering if there is a God? In my opinion, no we should not. The only way to discover something is to study it. I’ve been fascinated by the question of God my whole life. I’ve read the Bible cover to cover twice, and studied many other religious books and texts. I’ve studied religious beliefs from Islam to Christianity to Jainism and on and on. The one constant in all these beliefs is the human attributes people assign to their Gods. Our God is a jealous God. God is angry. God desires worship. God desires. All these things are only things we can imagine. But I believe that if God is real, the reality would be so far removed from what we can now conceive of that none of these human attributes would be a part of it.

To settle on the human imagining of God is a mistake. Taking religious belief at face value says that we have given up on conceiving of God in any other way. In the time of Hippocrates it was believed the four basic “humors” of earth, air, fire, and water were responsible for all life. What if that explanation was settled on as the ultimate truth and no one ever looked beyond it? With that in mind, how can we accept that today’s modern religious thought is the ultimate knowledge of God? Considering all we have discovered since the time of Hippocrates, we must surely understand that we know little if anything about a God. All we can do is keep looking.

The Beauty Of Nothingness

a thought arises, seemingly
from nowhere unfolding
like a blooming flower
filling my mind with wonder
at its simplicity and beauty
and then a shift of thought
and it’s gone and I, weeping
at its loss because it
seemed so perfect, so right
and now it’s lost and I
can’t remember it other than
to say it was the answer
to every question, every
person has ever asked.

and now I am alone with my
thoughts, drab and mundane
in comparison with the
perfection of THE thought
which was in fact so right
that my mind couldn’t grasp
it and it fled, disapparated,
dissolved into nothingness
but left its essence, a pure
quintessence telling me I will
never reach this height again.

saddened by the vacancy, the
hole, the blank space left
behind, empty at knowing I
grasped it for only a second
it now seems unreal, that
maybe I didn’t really think
it at all that maybe this
feeling is something else
that maybe I’m just hungry
and I go to the fridge
for satisfaction.

The Social Contract

What is a Social Contract? This definition is taken from Wikipedia: “Social contract arguments typically posit that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority (of the ruler, or to the decision of a majority) in exchange for protection of their remaining rights or maintenance of the social order.” Thomas Hobbes, a British Philosopher of the 17th century posited in his book, “Leviathan,” that without social order life would be, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Basically meaning that if there were no laws, humans would have the freedom to do as they pleased. This may sound great but when you consider that that could include, rape, murder, theft, etc., it loses its appeal. Therefore most of humanity has given up the freedom to do these things in order to have the protections and benefits that the society in which they live afford. Further broken down it means that I agree to follow the laws of my state and country in order to receive the benefits that my state and country offers. That’s a social contract. Most people agree to the social contract on the idea that others also agree. A society built on the idea that only some of the people have to live by the rules usually will not last. History bears this out.

Thomas Hobbes

A social contract is an abstract thing. No actual contract exists. It only exists as a theory because we agree to it. So what happens when the contract breaks down? When some citizens are afforded rights, benefits, or protections that others are not? Basically the whole fabric of the societal system starts to come unraveled. An obvious example of this is the Civil Rights Movement. There were different rules for whites and for people of color. As I said earlier, the idea that makes a social contract work is that everyone agrees to the contract. When some under the contract receive benefits that others do not, or have to live under separate rules, the contract doesn’t work. And when the contract doesn’t work it loses its effectiveness. Society breaks down. The civil rights movement affected the entire country. Even in my little white town in Minnesota, we were affected by it. We saw the riots on TV. We saw the marches. We saw the speeches, and the protests. When people do not receive the benefits of the social contract they are living under they begin to wonder why they should still have to live by the rules. Social disorder ensues. In order for the social contract to be balanced, people need to be convinced that doing so is good for them. People of color obviously knew this. Civil disobedience helped convince white people that it was in their best interest to change the laws. If they don’t want people rioting in the streets they need to make some changes.

Detroit, 1943

The Gay Rights Movement is still going on today. The idea is the same, that the social contact is unfair for some. What surprises me, and I suppose it shouldn’t, is that after so many years of living in society many people still think that rules should be different for some than for others. And the ones who do think this way are obviously the ones who will benefit more from the imbalance. In every social movement you find the same scenario, people aren’t asking for more rights, they’re asking for equity in rights. Gay people don’t want to be treated better than everyone else, they want to be treated the same. It is amazing to me how hard some people will fight to keep their exalted status over others. What makes a person feel that they deserve more or better than others? I know all the arguments and many of them have to do with religious belief. People of color were touted as inferior races and the churches supported this idea. Gay people are seen as immoral or unnatural and the churches support this as well. Many religious people believe that the laws of their god supersede the laws of man. That idea attacks the social contract because not all people agree.

The question that arises for me is, when will people learn? Will they ever learn? In order to have a social structure that works, equity needs to rule. Fairness and moderation in all things. In what will become known as, “The Trump Years,” we can see this idea of equity being attacked again. The idea that some people deserve more or better is rearing its ugly head and eventually it will be subdued, but how bad it will be is still unknown. What damage our society will suffer will determine how society is shaped for the future. Will it lead to civil disobedience? To rioting in the streets? What will it take to right this imbalance in the social contract? Only time will tell.